Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday! The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our ‘inconsolable longing’, as CS Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us!

I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These sonnets form the opening sequence of my larger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages. That cycle has been published as a book called Sounding the Seasons. It is available  from Canterbury Press, the publishers, and is also available from from Amazon etc. The book is also available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here.

Over the course of this Advent season I shall post these sonnets onto my blog, so here is the first one; O Sapienita, (O Wisdom). I shall also give you the original o antiphon, in both Latin and English. You should also be able to hear the antiphons sung and hear me read the sonnet if you click on the play button just before the poem, or else click on the title of the sonnet to be taken to my audio page. Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

One of my great joy’s is that these sonnets have also inspired some beautiful work from other Artists and Musicians. Steve Bell has woven some of them into his award-winning Advent CD Keening for the Dawn (also see the links at the bottom of this page)) and now JAC Redford, who originally set my O Sapientia sonnet to choral music has now completed a suite of all seven sonnets. these have been professionally recorded, I will post further details once that recording has been released.Meanwhile you can learn more about my work with JAC and to play a recording of his setting of O Sapientia see my earlier post here)

In a new development for this year Steve Bell has also produced a wonderful, media-rich resource for Advent as a ‘snippet’ ebook, The Pilgrim Year Advent to which I have also contributed poems and reflections which you can check out Here

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Another way you might like to consider entering into and rediscovering Advent as a season of longing is through Steve Bell‘s new cd Keening for the Dawn. Steve has written a moving sequence of songs taking us from  longing and waiting in the dark, through the oracles of prophecy, to the first fulfilment in the birth of Christ and the deeper glimpses of epiphany. He has woven some of my poetry into his songs and I feel deeply honoured to be part of this record.

Steve Bell's Advent Album

Steve Bell’s Advent Album

7 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems

7 responses to “Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year

  1. Julie

    Reblogged this on Anglican, Plain: My Life and the History of the World and commented:
    Advent and the new Christian year is here! Pray, fast and celebrate the Light of Christ breaking through the darkness.

  2. Brilliant as always, Malcolm. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: First Sunday | watchforthelight

  4. Pingback: Advent for Adults: Web Round-Up 2 | Sacraparental

  5. Pingback: Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year | VIEWS from the Edge

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